STOCKTON — Anitra Khoth woke up early Wednesday morning to watch “Morning Drive” on the Golf Channel.
When her name was announced as one of the 81 participants from First Tee chapters across the country selected for this year’s Pure Insurance Championship, the 15-year-old incoming junior at Lincoln High didn’t jump up and down, or scream with excitement.
“I really didn’t have much of a reaction,” she said. “It was more like an adrenaline rush. It was more like being speechless. It was really overwhelming for me.”
Khoth will represent the First Tee of San Joaquin chapter at the Pure Insurance Championship, formerly the Nature Valley First Tee Open, from Sept. 19-24 at Pebble Beach Golf Links. The event is part of the PGA Champions Tour, and the young players from the First Tee chapters will be paired with a PGA Champions Tour player.
Last year, Lincoln’s Madeline Zunino, then an incoming junior, represented the First Tee of San Joaquin at the Nature Valley First Tee Open and played alongside eight-time major champion Tom Watson. In 2012, Anthony Madrid, then an incoming junior at St. Mary’s High, was the first representative from the First Tee of San Joaquin, which was founded in 2006, to participate in the event. His playing partner was Jeff Sluman, a six-time winner on both the PGA and PGA Champions tours.
Khoth doesn’t know who her playing partner will be, but she’s excited about the opportunity.
“The main thing I’m excited about is being able to meet new kids from throughout the country and to be able to talk to them and learn their different skills and strategies,” she said.
Khoth was a shy 8-year-old when she started with the First Tee of San Joaquin chapter at Van Buskirk Municipal Golf Course in Stockton. She stuck with the program, which teaches nine core values through golf, and honed her golf and social skills. Now, she’s a completely different person.
“She was the shyest person around. She was quiet,” said Don Miller, Executive Director of the First Tee of San Joaquin. “Now, she has confidence. She’ll shake your hand and look you in the eye and carry on a conversation. Her confidence has grown so much and so has her golf game.”
Khoth and Zunino are the top two players on Lincoln’s golf team. Khoth led the Trojans to a divisional championship as the event’s medalist and started her sophomore season with four consecutive 1-under-par performances. On June 15, she was awarded the Best of the Record All-Star Preps Girls Golfer of the Year award.
Khoth’s parents, Khoth Pech and Botha Suon, are natives of Cambodia. They also have a son, Leon, 10, who plays golf. Anitra is aware of the hardships and sacrifices her parents have made in starting a new life in America, and she tries to make them proud of her.
“I actually do,” she said. “It means a lot.”